When Reena Niaz Muhammad was resettled in Palmerston North, the first thing she did was find a place to study nursing. A refugee from Pakistan, Reena’s educational journey hasn’t been easy, but being awarded a Sir Robert Jones Refugee Daughters’ Scholarship has been a great way to wrap up 2020.
The Sir Robert Jones Scholarship helps young women from refugee backgrounds complete a university degree or tertiary qualification. It is designed for those who aspire to further study, but have been denied the opportunity because of family circumstances.
Reena, who is finishing up her first year as a Bachelor of Nursing student at UCOL, was thrilled to be awarded the scholarship. The fund will pay for the next two years of her tuition fees.
“When I received the news by email, I was too nervous to open the attachments,” says Reena. “My mum was sitting next to me. When I told her I had got the scholarship, she had a big smile on her face – she was more excited than me! Seeing her happy again was so precious to me.”
Reena’s mother, Bibi Zulaikha Sarwar, is a refugee twice over – she and her husband were originally from Afghanistan, but moved to Pakistan in order to escape the intense violence in Kabul. It was in Pakistan that Reena was born.
“Life was hard for us,” explains Reena. “My father passed away when I was very young, and my mum had to support myself and my three siblings. When I reached year 9, she couldn’t do it alone, so I started working a nine-hour night shift in a call centre. I’d then study for four hours during the day.”
“The importance of education is something that I have understood from the childhood – I wanted to pursue it but I had to struggle for things like books, uniform, school fees. Financially, I couldn’t attend university. In Pakistan we don’t have student allowance or student loan, and I didn’t have full citizenship. The only way I could earn it was if I married a local person there.”
Instead, Reena’s family looked for a new path, and in May 2018, Reena, her mother and younger brother were welcomed into New Zealand. “I’ve never had a happier moment in my life, than the day I arrived in New Zealand.”
However, fulfilling her dream of joining the medical community wasn’t as simple as enrolling into a degree. “When I arrived, my academic English was so poor. I was over 18 so I couldn’t enrol in school, but I found UCOL’s Certificate in Study and Career Preparation (Level 3) and then the Level 4 nursing pathway certificate.”
She completed her courses with good grades, while also working part-time at New World Feilding to support her mother. “My mother is ill, so my hours at work help us pay for her medicines, and fuel to take her to appointments. During the COVID lockdown I kept working as an essential worker, and I took on extra shifts so I could support our local community.”
Reena’s pride for the Manawatū shines through whenever she speaks of her adopted home.
“When I finish my Bachelor of Nursing, I want to study part-time towards my Master’s degree. But most importantly, I want to work fulltime as a registered nurse, and give back to this country that gave me and my family a place to live safely.”
“I’m so thankful to Sir Robert Jones and the people involved in this scholarship – it will relieve some of the burdens on my shoulders, so I can focus on being a student.”